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Reflecting on Half a Century of KISS: A Farewell to the Iconic Band

In New York, fifty years ago, four young New Yorkers carried their guitars, amps, and drums to a loft on 23rd Street, dreaming of becoming the biggest band in the world.

This weekend, Kiss, the band initiated by those four – albeit with two different members currently in the fold – will bid its farewell about 10 blocks north of that loft. Kiss will perform at Madison Square Garden, having become one of the biggest bands in the world, redefining expectations for the live concert experience.

Let’s take a look back at major events in Kiss’ history, taken from Associated Press interviews with Kiss members, quotes they gave to other media, and material from band members’ autobiographies:

1973: Gene Simmons, who briefly worked as a teacher and loved horror films and comic books, and cabbie Paul Stanley, who once dropped passengers off at Madison Square Garden to see Elvis Presley and vowed someday he’d be on that same stage, exit their band Wicked Lester and begin searching for bandmates to put together a true spectacle. They find drummer Peter Criss, who had placed an ad in a music paper looking for a band, and Ace Frehley, who showed up at auditions with one red sneaker, one orange sneaker, and a guitar.

Each member adopts a specific stage identity: Simmons the demon; Stanley the starchild; Frehley the spaceman, and Criss the catman. The band hones their act with tiny club gigs, and by New Year’s Eve, secure a support slot on the bill with Blue Öyster Cult. Simmons accidentally sets his hair ablaze that night while breathing fire. (It would happen many times over the years, to the point where they stationed a roadie with a sopping wet towel nearby.)

1974: Kiss releases its self-titled debut album, and its follow-up, “Hotter Than Hell.”

PHOTOS: A look back at 50 years of Kiss-tory as the legendary band prepares to take its final bow

1975: The band releases its third album, “Dressed To Kill,” which includes a catchy song called “Rock And Roll All Nite.” But it isn’t until that track’s live version comes out later that year as the anchor of Kiss “Alive!” that the band has its first major hit.

1976: Kiss releases what is considered by many fans to be its best studio album, “Destroyer,” which includes the orchestral ballad “Beth” that would, quite accidentally, become one of their biggest hits. “Beth” was the B-side of the hard-rocking single “Detroit Rock City,” but radio disc jockeys began playing the ballad instead and it took off.

1977: The band releases “Love Gun” and a second live album, “Alive II.” The Gallup Poll names Kiss the most popular band in America. The band plays Madison Square Garden for the first time.

1978: In a move unheard of in the music industry, the four members release solo albums simultaneously, each selling over a million copies. But Frehley‘s is the only one to spawn a hit, with “New York Groove.” NBC airs a two-hour TV movie starring the band, “Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park.” Kiss floods the globe with band-themed merchandise far beyond the usual T-shirts and posters, including lunchboxes, vitamins, transistor radios, trading cards, and pinball machines. Later offerings include Kiss Kondoms and Kiss Kaskets.

1979: Kiss releases “Dynasty,” with the disco-inspired “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.” By this point, their live show features Simmons seeming to fly into the air and land atop speakers above the stage, in addition to the usual fire-breathing and blood-spitting.

1980: They release the pop-y “Unmasked” and later hire drummer Eric Carr to replace Criss.

1981: The band releases “Music From The Elder,” a concept album that evokes “Harry Potter” 20 years before that phenomenon began. But the album, with its medieval theme and departure from their typical musical style, does not appeal to many fans.

1982: Reacting to backlash against “The Elder,” Kiss releases “Creatures Of The Night,” a bombastic, drum-heavy masterpiece that remains one of its heaviest albums to date. Frehley is replaced by Vinnie Vincent on lead guitar.

1983: Deciding it’s time to forsake the trademark makeup, Kiss reveals what they actually look like on an MTV special, timed to the release of the “Lick It Up” album. They remain without makeup until a 1996 reunion tour with the original members.

1984-1990: Kiss releases the albums “Animalize,” “Asylum,” “Crazy Nights” and “Hot In The Shade” as MTV embraces their new look. Guitarist Mark St. John replaces Vincent in 1984, but a painful nerve condition in his hands soon renders him unable to continue. He is replaced by Bruce Kulick.

1991: Carr dies of heart cancer.

1992: Eric Singer, a well-respected drummer for Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Badlands and Lita Ford, is hired, having toured with Paul Stanley‘s solo band in 1989. The band releases “Revenge,” and records the album “Alive III” on that tour.

1995: The lineup – Stanley, Simmons, Kulick and Singer – is joined by Frehley and Criss during the taping of an MTV “Unplugged” show, telegraphing an upcoming reunion.

1996-7: “Carnival Of Souls,” a grunge-inspired album that had leaked and was already widely bootlegged, is officially released. The original members of Kiss reunite for what would become the top-grossing tour of the year.

1998: The reunited Kiss releases “Psycho Circus.”

2000-3: Kiss announces its first farewell tour. Soon after it ends, Stanley and Simmons change their minds. In 2002, Frehley is replaced by Tommy Thayer, a longtime band assistant. The band releases “Alive IV” with a symphony orchestra in 2003. Singer rejoins, cementing a lineup that has remained steady since then.

2009-2012: Kiss releases “Sonic Boom” and “Monster,” their final studio albums. They begin a series of annual autumn “Kiss Kruises” with fans to tropical destinations.

2014: Kiss is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but does not play at the ceremony.

2019: Kiss begins its “End Of The Road” tour, 19 years after its first “farewell” tour. Its final two shows are scheduled for Dec. 1 and 2 at Madison Square Garden, a five-minute subway ride from where they started.

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